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tv   Frontline  PBS  January 24, 2013 9:00pm-10:00pm PST

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>> tonight ofrontline... >> i am going to start a revolution. >> michelle rhee had an aggressive plan...
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>> if their test scores did not go up, they were going to be fired. >> to reform the worst school system in the nation. >> i'm terminating your principalship now. >> it seemed to work. >> 42% increase in mathematics. >> but at what price? correspondent john merrow examines her battles with the teachers' union and accusations of a cheating scandal. >> merrow: what's your reaction to those numbers? they say the gains are phony. >> in isolated places, could something happen? maybe. but i can point to dozens of schools where there were dramatic gains that were maintained. >> "the education of michelle rhee." >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontline is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur
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foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting instigive porting and enterprise journalism. additional funding for this program is provided by: >> michelle rhee's journey to national prominence began in 2007. washington dc had just inaugurated a new mayor, adrian fenty. he had won a landslide election and promised to fix the district's abysmal school system.
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>> the lack of real opportunity for young people drives our unemployment rate, it drives our crime rate, and we can't have that. this is the nation's capitol of the united states of america. we shouldn't have the worst school system. we should have the best. >> are you ready? all right. >> almost everyone expected fenty to choose a seasoned veteran to turn the schools around, but he chose a virtual unknown. >> good mornin >> rhee began by introducing herself to students... >> i'm excited to be here today. >> ...and teachers, giving them a glimpse of her forthright style. >> i am michelle rhee. i am the new chancellor of the dc public schools. and just in case there was any confusion, i am in fact korean, i am 37 years old, and, no, i have never run a school district before. >> although rhee had never run a school district, she had worked in school reform for ten years, and warned fenty that sweeping change could politically costly.
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>> i said,you are a politician. "your job is to keep the noise minimums to a level and to keep your constituents happy." i said, "i am a change agent. "and change doesn't come without significant pushback and opposition." >> the person who says that they're going to come in, shake things up, change the system, challenge the status quo, that's exactly what i want. >> i said, "what would you risk just at the chance to turn this school district around, to truly transform it?" >> everything. i said everything. that one word. essentially we're putting the entire government and the entire city, at the disposal of our chancellor to fix things as quickly as possible. >> you have one minute to report to class. >> let's go. let's go, let's go. >> fall 2007. across washington, some 4,300 teachers and 50,000 students were beginning a new school year. >> good morning, my favorite class.
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>> good morning, mr. hughes, my favorite teacher. >> it's a new beginning. teachers are excited this year. people are waking up and saying, "gee!" (phone rings) >> this is michelle. >> this day was also the beginning of our long journey with michelle rhee. over the next three years we would follow her and watch as she wielded the extraordinary power she'd been given to try to fix dc's broken schools. >> i'm trying to hit as many schools as i possibly can this week before my one-on-ones start with the principals. >> rhee said her goal was to improve overall student achievement. she planned to use a year-end test known as the dc cas, or the dc comprehensive assessment system, as the key measure of that improvement. >> these are scores from last year. as you can see some students just went way up there. for our third graders... >> rhee would keep one eye on the scores, the other on those responsible for raising them.
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>> i went into classrooms today where not a lot was going on. and, frankly, i wrote down those people's names. i remember them. because when i meet with those principals i'm going to say, "look, your building might be clean and that's great. if the instruction is not happening, then you are not leading this building correctly." >> rhee met with each school principal one-on-one-- something no dc superintendent had ever done-- and had them commit to specific test score gains. >> first, what academic gains can you guarantee for this year? >> i'm telling the teachers ten percent, and that's our schoolwide goal, but i would be committing to you five percent. >> okay. i came into those meetings with ten years of historical test data for every single school. the first question i asked the principal is "how long have you been at the school?" so they'd say "six years," and i'd count back six years, draw the line and say, "this is
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what the achievement level at your school has looked like since you've been the principal there." and if it was great then i'd say, "wonderful. keep doing... what can i do for you?" and if it was, you know, on the downward trajectory, then i'd say, "we have a significant problem here, and unless you turn this around this year, you're not going be here any longer." and for those who were sort of flatlining it, i said, "this is not going to cut long term." >> principals were scared to death that if their test scores did not go up, they were going to be fired. and they knew that she had the authority to do it. so of course people felt threatened. >> francisco millet oversaw principals across the district. >> it was my job to supervise approximately 42 schools, elementary schools. i went into all of my schools. >> one of his schools was noyes education campus. >> when i went into noyes i was very impressed. >> a typical inner city school, noyes was an example of what rhee hoped to accomplish.
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the year before she arrived, its principal, wayne ryan, had raised test scores in reading and math over 20 points. >> he said he was going to make the same gains this year as they did last year. >> no, if we made the same gains, the chancellor's going to take my entire staff out to dinner. >> rhee was so impressed by ryan's success that she featured him in this recruitment ad. >> you were like a poster child. >> good morning, everyone. >> standardized tests like the dc cas, which ryan had used at noyes, were mandated in 2002 by a federal law called no child left behind. their scores enabled federal officials to measure progress at individual schools. >> now, how many of you know about no child left behind? what does that law say? it basically says that by the year 2014, every child in the united states should be proficient in english and in mathematics. >> poor scores could trigger drastic consequences
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like bringing in a private company to take over. so schools took time from their normal teaching to prepare their students for the tests. >> i have the results in my hands. now, am i smiling? >> no. >> no, i am not happy right now. i am not happy because many of you did not do so well. but that's okay for now, because that is part of the reason why i am here, so that we can make some adjustments and so that you can score better. >> the dc cas was also designed to diagnose students to identify those needing additional help. but rhee was taking it one step further. >> how did dc cas become this be all and end all instrument for principals? >> that's a very good question. i don't know. it did not become a serious issue until michelle rhee looked every single principal in the eye and said, "what can you guarantee me insofar as your test scores
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are concerned?" that's when it became very serious. >> yeah, say it like you mean it. is there hope? >> yeah. >> now a single test could make or break a principal's career. >> you don't have to run, but you've got to put some pep to your step. let's go. i was one of the first principals to meet our chancellor, with chancellor rhee. she reminded me that anacostia is a tough school with tough issues. i promised her, you know, that i'm up for the challenge. >> anacostia's students experienced those tough issues every day. >> it's like you in a death trap down here. it was like gangs fight. it was like a big old crowd of kids just fighting each other in the hallways. >> the students don't go to class. they don't listen to the teachers. and they are being rude and disrespectful. >> anacostia high school. >> yes.
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one of my biggest challenges, yeah. if you look at the achievement levels in the school, they are so low. we are in the single digits in terms of proficient and advanced kids. the school leader left at the end of the year, so i had to put an interim in place. >> that interim was lynne gober, who had been a teacher and administrator in dc for 15 years. this was her first shot at being a principal, and the disadvantaged neighborhood didn't make her job any easier. >> all of our students understand that just because of where you live does not mean that the expectations aren't high. and i believe that a lot of them felt that, "people don't expect "me to succeed. they expect me to have c's, d's and f's." well, our expectations are right here now. >> the principal? she's struggling. she's struggling. >> who's the teacher? >> i don't know. >> what are you doing to help her? to help anacostia high school?
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>> putting a lot of extra resources there right now. >> we need to contact her mom. >> we have deployed one of our regional superintendents. we have a number of extra assistant principals who didn't have placements in other schools who have been placed there. i think she's in an incredibly difficult situation. and she wants to do well. >> i wanted to at least double our test scores. hypothetically, if our test scores were seven percent, then i believe i might have said 14 percent. now, this is my second time seeing you. why? y'all don't know where to go by now? >> but the job of transforming an urban high school and turning it around, there aren't very many people in this country who have done that, who have that skill set. >> hurry up. >> does she have the year? >> maybe not.
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>> holding principals accountable was a start, but rhee also had problems with the school bureaucracy. she learned even before school started that it was notorious for losing books and supplies. >> i was asking teachers and principals, "what are you missing? what do you need?" and a lot of people were saying that they didn't have all of the textbooks that they needed. so i went to the warehouse. >> recognizing a great photo opportunity, she invited the media to come along. >> these are science kits. by the time i got onto the second floor, i thought i was going to throw up. it was glue and scissors and composition books. things that teachers not only are dying for, but spend their own money on. and they'd been sitting there for years. there are boxes and boxes of these things here. >> rhee's warehouse tour made the evening news,
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and put central office bureaucrats on notice. >> if you have people who aren't producing, start documenting. make sure on his performance evaluation that you are clear on that. so you just have to, department by department, just be as on top of it as you possibly can. the central office has to be oriented in the right way. we don't run the schools. we serve the schools. right now, people at the central office have this idea that they are in charge and, you know, they can grant requests, they can give information if they feel like it, and if not... that's the absolutely wrong way to think about things. right now we don't have good quality controls in place. what's going to solve the problem is creating a culture of accountability in the central office first, and then eventually everywhere in the school district that says if you are not performing, then you cannot work here. >> rhee wanted to fire staff she believed to be incompetent,
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but that was one power she did not have. for that, she needed the city council to pass new legislation. so she began lobbying for votes. >> i like to follow the rules. >> that's why you're asking us to change the rules. >> that's right. that's why i have to ask you to change the rules. >> rhee started with council member harry thomas. >> are you going to vote for the legislation? because this comes down to a matter of trust. the question is, do you trust me? >> well just say council member thomas is inclined to support the chancellor. >> no. >> why? >> because that's dumb. >> why? that's the truth. >> people want to know if you are going to support it or not. >> how? >> this halfway crap... >> that's not halfway. >> council member thomas is inclined? i'm not... that's even embarrassing just saying that. i wouldn't say that. i'm going to say he's waffling. >> oh, really? >> it is. it is what it is.
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>> we saw your meeting with councilman thomas. >> yes. >> how'd that go? >> i think it went well. >> do you have his vote? >> yes. >> before the chancellor can fire someone she needs to be sure... >> at this meeting, the city council took up rhee's reque for the power to fire central office employees. >> not surprising, this bill has become a very controversial piece of legislation. >> it was the first skirmish in her reform battle, and the stakes were high. >> we're not private industry. we're the government. that's why we have these rules-- to protect people in jobs like this, because we don't want every new administration to hire and fire arbitrarily. >> so are we going to jeopardize everything by keeping incompetent people in their positions? i just can't do that. >> forced to choose between workers rights and rhee's reforms, the council members cast their votes. >> roll call. >> chairman gray?
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>> yes. >> councilmember alexander? >> yes. >> councilmember thomas? >> no. >> chairman gray, the vote is ten yes, three no. the motion passes. >> rhee hadn't convinced council member thomas, but she did get the authority she wanted. after the council vote, she fired 121 employees-- 15 percent of her central office staff. >> my support for the chancellor is unwavering. we really are in lockstep. when you're going through the type of drastic reform that we've already started to propose and will be proposing, you can't waver, you can't blink. you have to go full speed ahead. >> with no time to waste, rhee had been crisscrossing the district talking about ways to improve the schools. but she kept her most controversial proposal under wraps-- closing two dozen half-empty schools, schools that were draining the systemf resources. >> it would have been extraordinarily unwise of me to
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have started this process by saying, "so, i've got to close some schools. what do you all think?" i would lose faith immediately in that person. you have to have a vision. you have to have a strategy. you have to have methodology and then data. then people can react to that once it's laid out. >> but her proposal was leaked to the washington post. >> no, you don't get that! we don't want that! >>he nt six weekwere all about damage control as rhee tried to explain the proposed closures to angry parents. >> the bottom line is that we made the proposal, which was a proposal. we wanted to have a number of community forums during which we could hear people's input. a lot of the decisions that i'm going to be making as long as i'm chancellor are going to raise this kind of opposition. for me, it's about the fact that if we make these decisions now, and we take on the people who
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are not in favor of it now, what it will result in is greater resources quicker for kids in classrooms. and that to me is way more important than how many nights i have to sit around getting yelled at. >> you can't yank them out of the ground they're in and move them somewhere else and expect that program to work. i'm telling you that you are not being serious about taking parent and community input into account. >> that's fine. i think that's wheree're going to differ in opinion then. you're absolutely welcome to have your opinion about... >> it is a done deal. now i understand this situation. >> sir, can i just... people said, "well, you didn't listen to us." and i said, "no, i listened to you. i'm not running this district by consensus or by committee. we're not running this school district through the democratic process." >> it's not a democracy? >> no, it's not a democracy. >> despite all the tumult, rhee
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remained remarkably calm and closed more than 20 schools. >> i really was fine through the entire process. in fact, my mother said, "i used to be worried about you when you were a little kid, because you didn't seem to care what anyone thought about you. and i thought you were going to grow up to be really antisocial." she's like, "it seems like that's, you know, serving you well now." >> we saw that side of rhee, that cool detachment, a number of times, most notably the afternoon she invited us to film this meeting. >> so i'll tell you that from the very beginning, from when we first met, i had concerns about your ability to do this job. within the first seven minutes i knew that this guy hadittle chance of making it long term. the folks who have been in the school from staff and faculty who are at the school, are saying that the school is out of control, that there is no structure, no order, not a good culture that's being created. that sits squarely on your
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shoulders. i said, "tell me how the school is different now or when you left from when it was when you got there." and he said, "well, i started a student-of-the-month program, and i..." nothing to do with student achievement. nothing to do with measurable results. i mean, it was completely unimpressive. no, i'm terminating your principalship now. >> what do you feel at a time like that? >> at a time like that? >> where you're firing somebody? >> i feel like i'm doing the right thing. >> any compassion for the guy? for the person you're... >> compassion? i would not sathat comssion is right. i have hired and fired more people in my lifetime probably than almost anyone else. i think that when you're doing the kind of work that i'm doing
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where the lives and futures of children hang in the balance, you can't play with that. this is not about giving people jobs, or ensuring that people can maintain their jobs. this is about educating children. >> who would do that? who would think that that was a good idea, to fire a principal on camera, even if you can't see that principal's face? and i think the answer is just kind of a zealot. someone who so strongly believes that kids are getting cheated, and that this person or this policy stands in the way of these kids getting a good education. "and therefore, i will do anything to eliminate that in whatever means possible." >> rhee's biographer, richard whitmire, traces her passion back to her senior year in college. >> she saw a pbs documentary on teach for america. snd she said, just like a light bulb went off, and said, "this is what i want to do."
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>> teach for america sent rhee to baltimore. >> my school was one of the lowest performing elementary schools in that city. the roughest neighborhood in baltimore. home lives of my kids, a mess. drug infestation, prostitution, kids staying up until 11:00, 12:00 at night, watching tv and eating cereal out of a box for dinner. that's the life that my kids had when i was a teacher. >> one day when she was desperately trying to win the attention of her unruly second graders, a bee flew in the window. >> it's buzzing around the classroom and the kids are going nuts, you know, "a bee, a bee, a bee." and they're literally jumping up on top of the chairs and the desks and running around, wreaking havoc. and i had my lesson plan. and the bee lands and i smacked it. and i'm not sure what, but something in me just sort of made me flick it into my hand and eat it. >> and all the kids just stopped
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and looked aher like, "whoa, maybe we should be paying attention to this person. she's bad." >> it freaks me out just talking about it, the bee story. >> denise hall was one of her students. >> she actually taught me long division in second grade. that was special, because i was, like, one of the only students learning that. she said, "you're smart. you can do this." >> you can ask my kids, they'll tell you, "she was strict. she was mean." but in the end, they all knew the reason why i was doing everhing was because i believed in them and i cared about them. >> rhee said her hard work paid off in greatly improved test scores. >> over a two year period, we moved a group of students who were on average performing at 13th percentile, and when they left me at the end of two years, they were... 90 percent of them were scoring at the 90th percentile or above. >> that big a jump, 13 to 90 percent, is dramatic, but rhee said those numbers came from her principal.
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>> i'm convinced that she made great progress with her kids, startling progress. but it's doubtful that it was the astoding progress that the principal cited back to her. and we'll never know one way or the other. >> what is certain is that baltimore taught rhee the importance of great teachers-- a lesson she'd never forget. >> their parents didn't change. their home lives didn't change, their neighborhood didn't change. what changed was the adult who was in front of them every single day in the classroom, who had the highest expectations for what they could do. and you know what? when you have those high expectations of the kids, they will meet them. >> rhee brought thoshigh expectations to her new job, but now she was aiming them at school principals. if you didn't measure up to her standards, you'd be out. by the end of the first year she fired 24 of them. one was lynne gober at anacostia
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high school. >> i felt that i did the very best i could with what i had. it was. it was a surprise. >> gober had more that met her test score goals. but rhee also judged principals on school discipline and other factors. >> this is the system that educated me, that trained me to be an administrator. i truly feel that the system that i grew up in let me down. >> so lynne gober wasn't around when rhee announced the dc cas scores at the beginning of her second year. >> good morning! we saw an eight percentage point gain in reading at the elementary levels last year and we saw an 11-point gain in math. we saw a nine percentage-point gain in reading at the secondary levels and nine percentage-point gain in math. these are unbelievable for on a one-year time period.
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raymond elementary school! >> as an incentive to raise test scores, rhee had promised to give top performing schools cash awards. >> principals will be receiving $10,000 apiece. assistant principals will be receiving $9,000 apiece. teachers will be receiving $8,000 apiece. aiton elementary school saw a 29 point increase in reading and a 42 percent increase in mathematics! >> our test scores are going up, and all the other academic indicators are headed in the right direction. it's a story of success so far with lots still to go. >> but that dramatic rise caught the attention of the official responsible for administering the test. >> the state superintendent noticed that there were enormous
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gains in some schools. outsized gains. twenty, 30 points. >> bill turque of the washington post reported that the dc cas answer sheets-- sheets with fill-in bubbles like these-- showed an unusually high number of answers erased, changed from wrong to right. >> this was not something that was just kids as kids will do, you know, erasing. there had to be some outside activity going on to change these swer sheets. >> do we know that someone cheated? >> no, this is... this is the problem. erasures, in and of themselves, are simply a diagnostic marker. they don't prove anything. they just are an indication that something needs to be investigated. >> in fact, the state superintendent asked the chancellor to investigate and report back within 60 days. >> we kept saying, "okay, we're going to do this, we just need to have more information." >> twice, the usually decisive
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rhee asked to extend the reporting deadne. >> by the time the information was trickling in back and forth it was... we were about to take the next year's test. there was a new superintendent of education that came in at the time. and she said, "okay, well, we're about to take the next test anyway, so let's just make sure that the proper protocols are in place for next time." >> i have it from a confidential source that you did not want an investigation. >> that's absolutely incorrect. absolutely incorrect. >> that the state superintendent pushed you and you resisted it. >> absoluty no >> rhee tightened security procedures for future tests. she never did investigate possible cheating that first year. >> every minute should be spent on making sure these students understand the skills. >> in year two rhee set her sights on improving teacher quality. >> if i come into your room and i give a quick assessment and
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nobody is getting it, then i am looking at the teacher. >> when we took control of this school district in 2007, eight percent of the eighth graders were operating on grade level in mathematics. eight percent. and if you would have looked at the performance evaluations of the adults in the system at the same time, you would have seen that 95 percent of them were being rated as doing a good job. how can you possibly have a system where the vast majority of adults are running around thinking, "i'm doing an excellent job," when what we're producing for kids is eight percent success? >> from what i'd seen when my own children went to school here, rhee had a point. ineffective teachers often got a pass in the dc school system. >> some teachers can't even... they can't control their students. >> some kids sit around and talk. some kids get up, walk out, go places. >> we have this one teacher, when we come in the classroom she's hollering. throughout the whole class
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period she stands at the door, she doesn't teach. she gives us work. she tells us to do it. she doesn't teach at all. >> rhee started pressuring her principals, like darrin slade of ron brown middle school, to keep a close eye on teachers who didn't measure up. slade told us he welcomed the pressure. he'd been trying to get rid of poor teachers for years. >> i walked into a teacher's room before and the teacher was asleep. i wrote the teacher up, and the teacher still called the union on me. within the first four months, i had, like 12, grievances from teachers, just because i was going in, asking to see their lesson plan, making sure they were doing their job. >> do you have a sense of a percentage of teachers who are really in need of drastic improvement? >> in this building, we have like six teachers. that's, like, 20, 30 percent of the staff. >> we're actually going to hold them accountable to say, "if you say you have five ineffective
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teachers, then you either have to show us the plans for how you put in place a professional development program for them and they improved, or you've got to show us what you did about that." >> in the past, nobody had the guts like chancellor rhee, nobody had the mindset of, "i'm going to do what needs to be done to improve the quality of instruction, even if it means i have to get my hands dirty a little bit." what are you doing? what? >> nothing. whose room are you supposed to be in? >> miss lewis. >> miss lewis? let's walk down to miss lewis's room. >> darrin slade has what... you know, 600 kids who are counting on him. every teacher at ron brown has, you know, 125 kids who are counting on them. and what happens in our schools while they're here will make or break what their futures look like. so we should feel a tremendous amount of pressure around that >> do you want to go in miss lewis's room?
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thank you, miss lewis. >> we have a number of teachers who i don't believe will ever believe that kids can learn at high levels. and those are the teachers we need to move out quickly, rapidly, at whatever cost. >> how big is that number? what's the number? >> i'm not sure i should say that number. at least 50 percent. >> that's a ridiculous statement, 50 percent. because it's based on no logic. it's an opinion, and not a fact, and it's just something that came out of the air. >> george parker was president of the washington teachers' union. >> there are only so many lebron jameses and michael jordans. so you wouldn't have an nba if you didn't develop players. school system is no different. you take an average teacher and you turn him into a great teacher through support.
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>> in most school districts, firing a teacher is arduous and time consuming. it's easier to transfer the teacher to another school. >> across the united states, teachers don't lose their jobs because they're poor teachers. it just doesn't happen. in los angeles, the superintendent of schools was equally determined to fire ineffective teachers. and he came up with less than a handful. so this is just not done. >> but rhee wasn't just any superintendent, and the teachers knew it. >> people are scared for their jobs, because it seems like principals can have power of, like, "well, if i don't like you, you're out of here." and, they hold that overhead. so people are terrified. >> there's a... i think a belief that fuels the fear that the chancellor's solution to improving education is firing people. i think the criticism and the firing, it created a culture of low morale, one that was lowest
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that i've seen since i've been in d.c. public schools, and i've been here for 25 years. >> everybody who works for me has to feel comfortable and know that at the end of the day we're going to look at the results, and if the results are not there, if they are not producing significant gains for kids, then there is a chance that they won't be here in the long term. >> so it is really produce or else? >> shouldn't it be? hi, how are you? >> to make certain teachers were held accountable, rhee imposed a new evaluation system based on student achievement. dc cas scores would now determine up to 50 percent of a teacher's rating. she said this would make evaluations more objective. >> the system that we were using before was 100 percent subjective, and based only on the beliefs and opinions of one person, which was the teacher's principal. >> the new system, which she named impact, would have the principal and two outside master
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educators observe teachers. teachers who got high ratings could get a cash bonus or a pay increase. if they were rated ineffective, however, they might be fired. >> it doesn't matter whether you ve ture notit doesn't matter if you've tght here for 30 years or not. if you are not serving children well, if we do not see the evidence, through our observations and the student growth data that you are doing right by kids, then we are going to let you go from the system. >> the dc cas, which was created to evaluate schools and diagnose students, was now being used for a new purpose-- evaluating individual teachers. >> impact is the most dangerous instrument that has been created. it is a system that seems to be geared toward firing teachers, rather than what an evaluation system should be geared for, and that is providing teachers the support that they need to grow
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and develop into outstanding teachers. >> dc teachers had another concern. many of their students lived in tough circumstances, and often brought those problems to school. >> they are not factoring in the fact that they my student had a bad night last night. or, you know, we had a shooting down the street or in the neighborhood. >> there's so much, legitimately so much, going on in their daily lives like, you know, what's going on with your parents. are they in and out of your life? your safety. making sure you're getting all of your meals. making sure, you know, that you have a winter coat. basic health safety things that then you only have this much left over for school. >> our teachers have to take into consideration where our kids are coming from. you can't teach in a vacuum. you have to know where your kids are... you've got to meet them where they are. but you can never, ever, ever let that be an excuse for the kids not achieving at the
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highest levels. >> judging by test scores, rhee's no excuses policy seemed to be working. in rhee's second year, dc cas scores continued their upward climb, and top-performing schools continued to win those hefty bonuses-- schools like noyes education campus. but once again there was a problem. many schools, including noyes, had a high number of erasures-- answers changed from wrong to right. this time rhee took action. >> chancellor rhee went out and hired a firm named caveon to come in and take a look at schools with high rates of erasures. it was not really an investigation, my sense was, as much as it was an audit. a security audit. they went in and asked, "let's see your test security policies. let's see what you do to prevent this from happening." if you talk to caveon, they'll tell you that they did not use all the diagnostic tools in their toolbox. >> the company that you hired
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said that it had additional meods ey could he us to determine if cheating had taken place, but they were not asked to go further. >> yeah, that was a little odd to us, because we hired them to investigate. we did not... we did not lay out the parameters of the investigation. we just hired them to do the investigation, and really believed that they were going to do it in as comprehensive a manner as possible. >> caveon did not examine the actual tests. however, it reported that it "did not find evidence of cheating" at any of the eight schools it investigated. >> can you give me your autograph? >> an autograph? why do you want my autograph? >> me, too. >> i'm not famous. >> me three. >> once a virtual unknown, rhee was now a media celebrity. the national attention made washington a symbol of hope for public education nationwide. it had attracted thousands of job applicants and millions of dollars in foundation grants.
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>> i'm living what i think education reformers and parents throughout this country have long hoped for, which is somebody will just come in and do the things that they felt was right, and everything else be damned. >> and the country took notice, especially after she made the cover of time. >> here is the woman that we put in charge of our school system on the cover of time magazine with a cover article being written about something that we're doing right. to me, that was fantastic. >> but many dc teachers had a different reaction. >> this one shot gave the picture of, "look, just sweep them all out. get rid of them all." and that's not the solution. >> no other superintendent, no edible school system, allows their superintendent or chancellor to do this. and that the message is saying not only are we bad, but we have a superintendent that's a kook. >> sweep rhee! sweep rhee! sweep rhee! >> at the beginning of her third
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year, rhee stirred up even more controversy. she had hired more than 900 new teachers over the summer, and then discovered a budget shortfall. and so she laid off 229 teachers. >> i had been in dc public schools for 32 years. the principal told me that he had bad news, that my position was terminated. >> the city council had instructed rhee to cut back summer school. she defied the council. instead she told her principals they could lay off teachers they felt were ineffective, and they could ignore seniority. >> the metropolitan police officers told me to follow him. he escorted me to my car. he said, "get in your car and leave the premises now." i have never in my life be treated like a convict, humiliated. and my heart is broken. >> it was either based on
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complete incompetence, or it is an intentional effort to get rid of folks whose hair is too gray. >> rhee's earlier efforts to purge ineffective teachers hadn't drawn any great protest, but this mass layoff did, even alienating some of her supporters. >> michelle rhee better watch her back bause looking out here today, she is going down. >> three weeks after the rally, the city council summoned rhee and demanded to know why she had ignored their instructions to cut back summer school. >> we learned today that you in your unlimited authority have simply decided that you are not going to implement what the council said. you are just going to do something else. that is unbelievably cavalier, chancellor rhee. >> my understanding is that i do have the authority as the agency head to make the decisions about ving budget from one place to another and, quite frankly, when
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we looked at the impact that cutting summer school in half would have to our children's ability to be successful in the long term, to their graduation rates, i was unwilling to make that cut. >> why bother to have a legislative body if people in the executive branch would do whatever they choose to do, if they don't like the decisions of this body? that's a violation of the law. i mean, maybe we ought to just disband this council. >> many washingtonians turned against what they saw as rhee's autocratic manner and her tough reforms. and by the summer of 2010, the once wildly popular mayor was fighting for his political life. his opponent-- city council president vincent gray. >> i think the difference between adrian fenty and vincent
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gray is that vincent gray feels that you can still make the tough decisions for reform, but you can still treat the teachers and you can treat the community with the respect that they need for them to be involved in the process. >> i voted for you already. >> thank you so much. >> and, you know, look, you're fantastic. >> i don't believe that i can do this job and serve the children well unless i have the backing of the mayor, of my boss, in the way that fenty has given me. >> the next yor of washington d.c., vincent c. gray! >> shortly after fenty's defeat, the teacher union president, george parker, lost his own reelection bid, and michelle rhee held her last press conference as chancellor.
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>> good morning. today chairman gray and i have reached the mutual decision that i will leave my post as the chancellor of the shington d.c. public school system. in short we have agreed together that the best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside. >> when she came to washington, d.c., she was convinced that she had very little time to turn everything around. because she assumed that she was going to burn through whatever political good will she had and the mayor had. and the odd thing about that, of course, is she proved to be right. >> i wish we could have convinced more people that in order to have a world class school system, we were going to have to upset people. but we just weren't able to do it. but that doesn't mean that michelle rhee was wrong in doing so. in fact, i think she's the most right person that's probably ever come to this city. >> rhee left washington with a
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reputation as a fearless reformer. she had fired staff deemed incompetent and closed half-empty schools. and her most important enduring reform was tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. she also left a record of significant gains on the dc cas. but five months later, the legitimacy of those test score increases was challenged once again. usa today reported that during rhee's three-year tenure, well over half of her schools had been flagged for an inordinately high number of wrong-to-right erasures. >> there was one school where the fourth graders were erasing on average almost 13 wrong answers and correcting them to right answers. and the average was, you know, one for thdistricts a whole. and so statisticians are telling us, "your chances of winning the powerball are higher than this happening by chance." >> the usa today investigation
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looked primarily at one school-- the award-winning noyes education campus. >> more than 75 percent of its classrooms were flagged for high erasure rates. and noyes, during that same time, really saw its test scores spike. they went up from 44 percent in 2007 in reading. and then in 2009, it went up to 84 percent. to 84? >> correct, from 2007 to 2009. big jumps. >> noyes's principal wayne ryan, who had been promoted to the central office, left the public school system, he said, to pursue other options. he did not respond to frontline's requests for an interview. ryan's successor was adell cothorne. when she arrived at noyes, she said she knew right away that something was wrong. >> there's these huge disconnects. they're struggling academically. yet the data that i have been given is shong gat gns. but what i see with my own eyes
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on a daily basis is not a true picture of great gains. >> cothorne said she stayed late one evening to catch up on work. it was just after the students had taken a dc cas practice test. and she heard voices coming from one of the rooms. >> so i walked into the room and i saw three staff members. there were test books everywhere. one staff member was sitting at a desk and had an eraser. and then there were two other staff members at a round table, anthey had test books out in frt ofhem. and one staff member said to me, in a lighthearted sort of way, "oh, principal, i can't believe this kid drew a spider on the test and i have to erase it." >> cothorne said she reported the incident to the central office, but to her knowledge there was no follow-up. so prior to the actual dc cas, she changed the locks on the room where the tests were stored and asked for additional proctors. >> so what happened to the dc-cas scores at noyes that
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year? >> they dropped 30%. >> i sorry? >> they dropped 30% the year that i was there. >> and remember those phenomenal test score gains from rhee's first year? after security was tightened, some of those test scores dropped as well. >> aiton elementary school. >> by 2011 aiton's scores had plummeted 40 percentage points, raymond's 25. both schools had been flagged for wrong-to-right erasures. >> what's your reaction to those numbers? they say that the gains are phony. yea i mean, i... again, i feel like when you look at a situation like that, does it call things into question? absolutely. and should those things be investigated? 100 percent. there's no doubt about it. but i can point to, you know, dozens and dozens of schools where, you know, they saw very steady gains over the course of the years that we were there, or even saw some dramatic gains
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that were maintained. so i think, you know, in isolated places, could something have happened? maybe. >> some schools did maintain their gains. but was there also widespread cheating? to try to settle the matter, dc public schools asked the city's inspector general to investigate. the ig began by interviewing teachers at noyes education campus-- the same school usa today had focused on. >> at first, they tried to interview staff members after school, but then staff members would find a reason not to be interviewed. so finally after playing a cat-and-mouse game with my staff for about two weeks... >> why would teachers play cat and mouse? >> that would be speculation, but i guess they had something that they didn't want to be forthcoming. >> the ig finally managed to interview 32 school personnel and 23 parents. and after a 17-month
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investigation, the ig found a number of problems with test security. but on the issue of noyes personnel erasing answer sheets, "investigators found no evidence to corroborate these allegations." based on the noyes investigation, the ig decided not to look at any other schools. >> were you interviewed? >> no, i was not. >> why weren't you interviewed? >> again, my speculation, they didn't want to hear what i had to say. >> frontline requested an interview with the dc inspector general. his office declined, saying that their policy is to let their reports speak for themselves. it's been over two years since rhee left dc. she was giveunprecedented power and resources to transform the system. what did she accomplish? she's shaken up the teacher ranks. impact, her landmark evaluation system, has been awarding
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performance bonuses or pay increases to hundreds of teachers, and has also terminated nearly 400 of them. and scores on a national test improved slightly, but the public schools in washington are still among the worst in the nation, and dc's high school graduation rate is dead last. >> i don't think our kids are broken. i think our system is broken. >> despite her contrersi record as chancellor, michelle rhee has helped put public education in the national spotlight. today she is a media star. she announced on oprah that she was taking her brand of school reform nationwide. >> i am going to start a revolution. i'm going to start a movement in this country on behalf of the nation's children. >> her new organization, students first, has emerged as a prominent political force, backing candidates who support eliminating teacher tenure and the reform anda she developed in washington.
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>> last question. mayor fenty lost his job. george parker lost his job. you come out smelling like a rose. do you see any irony in that? >> i came out smelling like a rose? i'm not sure. >> students first, you know, national organization. >> yeah, i will say this. i lost the job that i loved. the job that i... if i had my druthers i would he been in for at least four more years. the job... the work that we're doing right now with students first is important. would i rather be in dc as the chancellor? absolutely. >> barack obama is projected to be the next president of the united states. >> they thought success would breed success. >> their leadership told the members, "no, just say no."
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>> he was in a positioto mak demas, a he didn't >> he's the first nobel peace prize winner with a kill list. >> now he gets another chance to be the guy who united the country. >> frontline takes you inside obama's presidency. >> go to for a closer look at the landscape f education reform in america. read adell cothorne's federal whistleblower suit and yesterday's announcement y the us department of education that it did not identify widespread cheing in response to her cplai. and connect to the frontline community on facebook and twitter or tell us what you think at >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you.
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thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontline is provided by the john d. ancatherine marthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting investigative reporting and enterprise journalism. additional funding for this program is provided by: captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our
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